We are gathered here to discuss how we can ensure the right future for all of us: A future of “sustainability”. That future of “sustainability” is not only necessary — an absolute must — it is also possible.
Today, sustainability has become much more pressing on our agenda. Population growth, the rapid rise of the middle class worldwide, the spread of mega cities, ambitious development needs — all these are adding pressure on finite resources. More people want more in a world where less is available.
If we do not succeed in ensuring a sustainable future, we will inevitably live in a world of utter chaos and desperation.
The good thing about the future is that we can control it. It does not happen by accident but by design. Decisions made today will shape the world 20 years from now, just like decisions made in Rio two decades ago shape our world today.
In 1992, the community of nations achieved a monumental feat at the UN Conference on the Environment and Development. It was the first time the global community got together, took stock of developments and environmental challenges, and charted a common path forward.
Since then, we have seen many encouraging developments.
The world economy has grown from US$34 trillion to over $64 trillion today. International trade has tripled to $28 trillion. Many countries have crossed over into Middle-Income Status, including Indonesia. And along with this, poverty worldwide has been reduced significantly from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 1.29 billion in 2008.
In Indonesia too, poverty has declined from 24 percent in 1998 to some 12.5 percent today. And we are seeing the spirit of entrepreneurship sweeping the world like never before — creating opportunity, jobs and hope for millions.
Along with economic achievements, the environmental agenda has made significant advances.
Environmental regimes have grown, for example, on biodiversity, on climate change, on forestry. More and more nations are adopting green growth strategies.
Indeed, environmental concerns today are as much bottom-up as top-down, with civil society, families and individuals taking part to protect the environment. The corporate world too has increasingly embraced a green business strategy and doing more CSR in social and environmental fields.
And we are seeing a growing spirit of international cooperation and globalism in the international system to tackle the issues of the day, although this has yet to lead us into a comprehensive and long-term global climate treaty.
Yet, we are also seeing some challenges.
To begin with, despite the considerable expansion of the world economy, we still have not reached a world economy that is “strong, balanced and sustainable”.
Indeed, the world economy is experiencing sluggish growth; it is uneven and imbalanced; and in some areas it is not yet sustainable. In many cases, it is not inclusive.
We are also concerned that there is growing inequity. We are seeing this between countries and within countries. For example, according to the World Bank, the discrepancies in income per capita between developed and developing countries are almost seven-fold.
We are seeing growing friction between population growth and resource availability.
The world population has already crossed the 7 billion mark and we are heading towards 9 billion people before 2050. Indeed, we have seen alarming cases around the world where resource competition has turned into conflict.
Meanwhile, climate change in the past two decades has worsened — with the earth getting warmer and we are struggling to keep its rise to below 2 degrees celsius.
And for a variety of reasons, environmental priorities have not been placed in the mainstream of the development agenda worldwide.
Our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015 have also faced uphill battles. There has been some progress, but also some setbacks and challenges in reaching our targets. For example, we made progress on infant and maternal mortality, poverty, life expectancy; but we are not on track as yet to reach MDG targets for improved nutrition for children, sanitation in rural areas, gender mainstreaming and urban poor.
Despite all this, I remain optimistic that we can ensure a future of sustainability.
I believe the key is technology and innovation. Just think of it. When Rio convened two decades ago, we did not have the Internet as we now know it. We did not have cell phones, social media, nano-technology, GPS or tablet computers.
Yet, these are the things that are changing our society today and driving the new economy. I believe that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and we are certain to see more innovations flooding our society. We will see hybrid cars, energy-efficient lighting; clean coal technology; solar panels; and even though these may be costly for now, the prices are certain to go down just as we have seen with cell phones.
I have found it encouraging that many of these innovations are now blooming not only in the developed world but also in developing countries. It is therefore very much possible that humans can and will produce more with much less energy, emissions and resources.
Twenty years after Rio, our world continues to change with lightning speed and our challenges have multiplied. It is time that we adjust our approach accordingly.
In Indonesia, we have actively pursued a policy of “growth with equity”. We have had some success. But we are also mindful that the central challenge is how to combine “sustainable growth” with “equity”. Growth for the sake of growth in the long run will not be tenable, hence a policy of “sustainable growth with equity”.
The article is an excerpt of the speech by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Indonesian Conference, the Riocentro Convention Center, Rio de Janeiro, on June 20.